STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DR. THE HONORABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
AT THE PRESS BRIEFING FOR UPDATES ON CURRENT TOPICS
September 23, 2022
Happy good afternoon to members of the press corps, fellow Virgin Islanders, people watching online and listening on the radio.
The Government of National Unity remains committed to keeping the public informed as we continue to work for the betterment of these Virgin Islands.
First I would like to inform the people of the Territory of my recent trip to the UK to attend the funeral of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The Virgin Islands delegation consisted of myself and His Excellency the Governor Mr. John Rankin, CMG, who faithfully served as the Queen’s representative during her reign. The acting director of the BVI office in London, Ms. Tracy Bradshaw, has been very supportive.
As is my duty as Prime Minister of these Virgin Islands, I went to Westminster Palace in London, where I saw the Queen reclining in all her splendor, and paid my respects to her. I have His Majesty King Charles III. and personally conveyed to the royal family the condolences of the people and government of the territory.
The Governor and I attended her heartfelt funeral earlier this week, which was seen by millions of people around the world and on our islands here in the Territory.
May her soul rest in peace and I pray that His Majesty the King and the Royal Family who are still grieving will be healed of their loss in a timely manner.
Regarding recent developments here at home and in the region, I thank God that we were spared a direct hit from Tropical Storm Fiona. I would like to commend the people of that territory for their preparedness and cooperation as the storm rolls south of us, and then-Premier Hon. Kye Rymer and then-President Governor Mr. David Archer for their leadership.
I also want to thank the government departments and agencies for their hard work in preparing the territory for hurricane season and their continued responsiveness when extreme weather conditions hit us. The Department of Disaster Management, the Public Works Department, the Ministry of Communications and Works, the Ministry of Health and Social Development, and the BVI Electricity Department deserve great credit for all their efforts.
While we were spared, we must keep our neighbors in the region in prayer who were directly affected by Tropical Storm Fiona and subsequent Hurricane Fiona. In Guadeloupe, severe flash floods have caused tremendous damage to some communities. Severe flash flooding also hit Puerto Rico, destroying infrastructure on parts of the island and initially leaving every community without electricity and some without running water. The situation remains very serious.
As far as I know, parts of the Turks and Caicos Islands were affected, but no major damage. Hurricane Fione continues its path in the North Atlantic and has luckily stayed away from Bermuda, although its power grid has been affected.
We are still at the peak of hurricane season and I want to encourage everyone to remain vigilant and prepared for additional storms that may develop and affect us.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this point I would like to say a few words about tourism and our efforts to stimulate the economy.
However, as Minister for Tourism, I would first like to publicly congratulate the new Board Members of the BVI Tourist Board on their recent appointment for a three-year term. I have great confidence in the new Chair, Ms. Delma Maduro, and the other 10 board members who represent the various sub-sectors of the tourism industry, including representatives from Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to our outgoing Chairwoman, Ms. Kenisha Sprauve, and the outgoing Board, who have achieved many accomplishments during a very difficult pandemic time.
The new board is excited and ready to be a success with just five weeks to go before the start of the next tourism season we all want. The new board will also focus on the 2022-2023 season and how we can best market and promote the BVI to increase our market share in an increasingly competitive international tourism market facing economic headwinds such as higher fuel prices and high inflation is in source markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The Government of National Unity wants the tourism industry to thrive in the territory and the economy to be more tourism-driven in the future. We take specific steps to achieve this.
First, as Tourism Secretary, I will discuss with the new Chair of the BVI Tourist Board the importance of a short term plan to guide the growth and development of the sector over the next two years whilst a Tourism Master Plan is developed to take our tourism product to the next level .
Meanwhile, we are diligently working on improvements in areas such as the airlift, as well as improving the tourism product.
As a first step, the culture portfolio has been transferred to the Premier’s Office where it will be integrated into the tourism portfolio. This is the approach of many countries that see culture as an integral part of their tourism product. For us here in the Virgin Islands, this includes ensuring that our museums and historic sites are properly managed and promoted as tourist attractions, and that the full artistic talent of our people can serve as valuable entertainment for visitors and our own domestic tourism market. The Festivals and Fairs portfolio has also been transferred to the Premier’s Office and the Tourist Office will be much more involved in the planning and marketing of not just our Emancipation Festival but all our festivals and fairs throughout the year.
Regarding the airlift, talks are ongoing about air access to the US mainland. Things are looking very promising and we will report on progress in due course.
We continue to investigate the best means to expand the runway at Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport and attract new hotel developments to the BVI. Announcements of progress in these areas will be made in due course.
Importantly, we continue to work with industry partners and stakeholders and consult on how we can promote tourism.
Just last week I met with many other tourism ministers from across the Caribbean for a Caribbean Tourism Organization and Caribbean Aviation Day Activities meeting in the Cayman Islands, hosted by my fellow Premier Hon Wayne Panton. I have had productive conversations with colleagues and partners who will help advance our efforts here at home.
Similarly, just yesterday I attended a meeting of the Inter-Virgin Islands Council on St. Thomas, where I led a BVI delegation in talks with our USVI colleagues leading to greater collaboration between the BVI and USVI in marine and maritime issues will guide our tourism industry on this page. Announcements will be made on Friendship Day, which we are hosting here in the Territory on October 22nd.
As I said earlier, ladies and gentlemen, the Government of National Unity would like to see a more tourism-driven economy that offers more business and employment opportunities for our people.
This doesn’t mean less interest or attention in financial services. Indeed, we continue to take steps to diversify the financial services markets in which we do business. Earlier last month, I attended the first annual Africa-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum in Barbados, which brought together representatives from government, industry, trade facilitation groups and international financial institutions to strengthen and boost African-Caribbean trade. The Virgin Islands opportunity is the financial services space that we started pursuing pre-COVID. We will continue to capitalize on this opportunity as we take steps to diversify our markets and further build the resilience of the financial services industry.
With that, ladies and gentlemen, I conclude my remarks and open myself to questions.